In the Best Interests of the Child? Distinctions Between the Professional Orientations of Juvenile and Adult Probation and Parole Officers

Published date01 September 2023
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/07340168221117108
AuthorRiane M. Bolin,Brandon K. Applegate
Date01 September 2023
Subject MatterArticles
In the Best Interests of the
Child? Distinctions Between
the Professional Orientations of
Juvenile and Adult Probation
and Parole Ofcers
Riane M. Bolin
1
and Brandon K. Applegate
2
Abstract
Despite fundamental distinctions between the ideals of juvenile and criminal justice , little research
has sought to establish the extent to which juvenile probation and parole ofcersorientations differ
from those of their adult counterparts. Further, of the few studies that have explored this area of
study, none have examined the role that organizational context may play in predicting professional
orientation. Thus, this study aims to ll the gap in the literature by utilizing a sample of probation
and parole ofcers drawn from three different types of agencies: juvenile-only supervision, adult-
only supervision, and combined supervision. The results show that the system within which ofcers
work is associated with professional orientation. Distinctions, however, are not as large or consis-
tent as would be expected from strict adherence to the traditional ideals of the juvenile justice sys-
tem versus the criminal justice system. The implications of these ndings are discussed.
Keywords
probation, parole, juvenile justice, ofcer, orientation
Every state in the U.S. operates a justice system of special jurisdiction charged with handling juvenile
offenders that is separate from the criminal justice system for adults. However, the juvenile system
that exists today does not perfectly mirror the one originally conceived in 1899. Over the last one
hundred and twenty years, the juvenile justice system has undergone a number of distinct paradigm
shifts, oscillating between an ostensibly benevolent approach that clearly distinguished it from the
adult system and a more punitive orientation reective of the criminal justice system (Benekos &
Merlo, 2008; Bernard & Kurlychek, 2010; Feld, 1991, 1999, 2017; Merlo & Benekos, 2010).
Feld (2017) categorized these paradigm shifts into distinct eras, and he suggested that the most
1
Department of Criminal Justice, Radford University, Radford, VA, United States
2
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, United States
Corresponding Author:
Riane M. Bolin, Department of Criminal Justice, Radford University, 801 East Main St., Radford, VA 24142, United States.
Email: rbolin1@radford.edu
Article
Criminal Justice Review
2023, Vol. 48(3) 339-358
© 2022 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/07340168221117108
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recent trend has moved the juvenile justice system away from a decades-long emphasis on culpability
and punishment toward a reafrmation that kids are different(p. 1; also see Benekos & Merlo,
2019; Weiss, 2013). While the broad philosophy of juvenile justice may be tilting toward recognition
of how juveniles differ from adults and renewed efforts to handle wayward youths in ways that are
consistent with their immaturity, relatively little is known about the orientation of those charged with
day-to-day supervision of adjudicated juveniles. Understanding an ofcers professional orientation
is of importance because it may inuence how effective they are in carrying out their job responsi-
bilities (Ricks & Eno Louden, 2015). The current study contributes to this important issue by assess-
ing the professional orientations of probation and parole ofcers (PPOs) who supervise juveniles and
contrasting them against those of PPOs whose clients are adults. Although the distinctions are
modest, we nd that juvenile PPOs are more aligned with some dimensions of traditional juvenile
justice ideology than are adult PPOs and ofcers who supervise both adult and juvenile clients.
Prior to detailing these results, however, we place the study in context by discussing the nature of
juvenile justiceincluding major ideological changesthe role of probation and parole ofcers,
and the existing literature on correctional orientations.
Literature Review
Juvenile Justice Paradigm Shifts
The separate system of justice for juveniles in the United States emerged at the opening of the 20
th
century. As one of the initiatives of the Progressive era, the juvenile court was grounded in the belief
that juveniles are different from adults in terms of their levels of maturity and responsibility. Based
on this conception of juveniles, the court sought to identify causes of youthsmisbehavior, to inter-
vene, and to promote their development into responsible adultsand to minimize the harms the
criminal justice system inicted on young peopleby diverting them to a separate, benevolent
system of justice (Feld, 2017, p. 9). With these goals at the forefront, the court exercised unfettered
discretion and informal processes to address the full situation of each juvenile. For the r st two-thirds
of the 20
th
century, probation ofcers made virtually all decisions about detaining youth; they inves-
tigated their situation and background, determined whether to refer the case to the juvenile court, and
made disposition recommendations to the judge (Sanborn & Salerno, 2005). Ultimately, the judge
and probation ofcer truly ran the show,emphasizing accountability but also rehabilitative dispo-
sitions that focused on the best interests of the child (Sanborn & Salerno, 2005, p. 25).
The original vision of a separate juvenile court, however, faced two major challenges during the
20
th
century that blurred its distinction from the criminal court. First, critics asserted that the outcome
of juvenile court cases were not as benecent as the court claimed; rather, juveniles were receiving
sometimes harsh punishment while at the same time being denied due process rights (Benekos &
Merlo, 2019; Feld, 1999). Landmark rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court addressed these concerns
and determined that youths must be protected through due process (Breed v. Jones, 1975; In re Gault,
1967; In re Winship, 1970; Kent v. United States, 1966; New Jersey v. T.L.O., 1984). The Supreme
Court concluded that youths were capable of exercising their legal rights and becoming active par-
ticipants in the adjudicatory process. The establishment of procedural safeguards recognized the
potentially punitive consequences of a juvenile being adjudicated, but this shift also increased for-
mality and transformed the juvenile court from a benevolent collaboration to an adversarial
process. These changes have been widely recognized as blurring the distinction between the juvenile
and criminal courts (Bernard & Kurlychek, 2010; Feld, 1991, 2017).
Second, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed societal and political changes including increased crime
rates (Cook & Laub, 1998; Snyder, 2000), a newfound fear of juveniles as superpredators(DiIulio,
1995), and a growing perception that delinquency resulted from poor character and rational choices
340 Criminal Justice Review 48(3)

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